Objective: To examine the relationship between the self-report of craving prescription medication and subsequent opioid misuse among chronic pain patients prescribed opioids for pain.
Methods: Six hundred thirteen patients taking opioid medication for chronic noncancer pain were asked how often they have felt a craving for their medication on a scale from 0=never to 4=very often. All participants completed a series of baseline questionnaires. After 6 months the participants were administered a structured prescription drug use interview (Prescription Drug Use Questionnaire), and submitted a urine sample for toxicology assessment. Their treating physicians also completed a substance misuse behavior checklist (Prescription Opioid Therapy Questionnaire).
Results: Three hundred thirty-seven participants (55.0%) reported that they never felt a craving for their medication, whereas 276 (45.0%) reported some degree of craving their medication (seldom to very often). Those who reported craving their medication were significantly more often male (P<0.01), unmarried (P<0.05), had lower scores on social desirability (P<0.001), and had been prescribed opioids for a longer time (P<0.05) than those who did not report craving medication. At 6-month follow-up, those who reported craving their medication showed higher scores on the Prescription Drug Use Questionnaire (P<0.001), had a higher incidence of physician-rated aberrant drug behavior on the Prescription Opioid Therapy Questionnaire (P<0.05), showed a higher frequency of abnormal urine toxicology screens (P<0.001), and more often had a positive Aberrant Drug Behavior Index (P<0.001).
Discussion: These results suggest that self-reported craving is a potential marker for identification of those at risk for opioid medication misuse.